"One thing that working with Mark Ronson has taught is not to be afraid to collaborate..." hmv.com talks to Duran Duran's Roger Taylor
From their early days as pioneers of the New Romantic movement in the 1980s, through their reinvention in the early 90s with tracks like 'Come Undone', to their last outing, the Mark Ronson-produced All You Need Is Now, Duran Duran have been churning out their unique brand of pop for more than three decades now.
Their 14th album, Paper Gods, arrives in stores today (Friday September 11th) and we caught up with drummer Roger Taylor to talk about the process of making the new album, what it's been like working with Mark Ronson and Nile Rodgers again, and why they aren't afraid to collaborate with other artists...
When did work begin on Paper Gods? Didn't you have to reschedule a lot of the All You Need Is Now tour because of Simon's laryngitis?
"Yeah, we did. I can't remember the exact date we started actually, but it took us more than two years. We just finished the album a couple of months ago, so rewind two years from there. It was an on-off process."
You've got Mark Ronson producing again, as well as Nile Rodgers, both of whom have worked with the band before – what do they each bring to the table? Aside from Nile's instantly recognisable guitar chops on 'Pressure Off', obviously...
"Well, they both bring very different things. I think Mark is more analytical, I mean I think he's a bit of a genius, a lot of it happens in his head, there's more of a thought process. Nile is more instantaneous, he just comes into the room kind of like 'ok, this is the shit', you know? He plays his guitar and it's very instantaneous for him, so there was a combination of two very different ways of working but it really worked for us I think. Then you throw in someone like Ben Hudson, who comes from another totally different direction, it made for quite a special record."
You've also had John Frusciante working on the record, how did that come about?
"That was through John (Taylor, bassist) actually, I think he had very loosely worked with John Frusciante on a project in L.A. and said that he was a big fan. I've met him a couple of times as well and he's always professed to be a huge Duran Duran fan, he said that one of the things that inspired him to pick up an instrument was hearing 'Save A Prayer', apparently!
"So one day we just got a message from him saying that he wanted to play on the record, completely out of the blue. I mean, for me he's probably one of the greatest living guitar players right now, so it was like 'absolutely, when can you do it?' That was what opened up the door to all the collaborations on the album really."
Can you talk us through some of the other guests on the record? There are quite a few this time...
"There are, yeah, we have Kiesza on there, amazing singer. I think Simon had been in a gym somewhere when she came on the TV screen, he thought she had an incredible voice and she was just right for that particular track. Then there's Janelle Monae, who's on 'Pressure Off'. I think that came through Nile actually, he had been working with her and made the suggestion."
Did most of them record in the studio with you? John Frusciante's contributions were done via email weren't they?
"Yeah, John's stuff was all done over the internet. I don't think he likes to leave his environment much these days, so everything was done online. He'd play on one of the songs, send it over, we'd listen and say 'yeah that's great, maybe try something different here', then send it back. So it was very unusual for us.
"Janelle was in L.A. too, John and Simon went over for the session, I think it was literally a few hours, got the part done, flew straight back. That was it!"
How does the writing process work these days? Has it changed much over the years?
"I think the main thing is that we're not afraid to take the time these days, we really give the writing process the time it requires, you know? When you've made 14 records it takes time to get inspired, we have to really work things before an idea becomes the finished song and we're not as afraid to let people in. Ben Hudson came in and had a huge effect on the lyrical writing of this record, so I think we're much more open to other people coming in and giving us inspiration.
"I think one thing that working with Mark Ronson has taught is not to be afraid to collaborate. It doesn't always have to be the four main band members. I mean, he's the king of collaborations really isn't he? So I think he led us down that path, but it's been a good path to follow."
Speaking of lyric writing, what kind of album would you say this is lyrically?
"I don't think there's any particular theme, I mean 'Paper Gods' is very different to something like 'Danceaphobia', which is very light in comparison, then there's 'The Universe Alone', which is really a deep lyric I think. So there's a real huge span of inspiration, it's certainly not a concept album. I do think some of the lyrics are perhaps a bit more introspective than they used to be."
A lot of this record really sounds like it's aimed at the dance floor, was that the intention from the outset?
"Not particularly, but I think there's always been that element to our music anyway, I've always said we've always had one foot on the dancefloor, we've always had the intention to move people with the music as well as just wanting them to listen to it. If you go to a Duran show, people always dance, it's always been part of our thing.
"But I don't think we were afraid to do that in a more contemporary way this time. The last record, All You Need Is Now, was very much about us all playing together as a band. We kind of mined our early material for that and kind of recreated that, the way we used to play.
"For this we wanted to be more contemporary, there were no boundaries for the record, we could go whichever way we wanted to go. I think the music just led us on this record."
You mentioned mining some of your early work there, you've followed the same idea with the album artwork this time haven't you?
"Yeah, Nick was the main driving force with that one, he has a friend called China Chow who art directed the project. I think really what the artwork is about is being unafraid of who we are, at different times in our career we've tried to run away from our past a little bit, so I think the artwork is the ultimate statement of self-acceptance, if you like. It gets a bit of kneejerk reaction, to be honest! But I think art should get a reaction, so I'm kind of pleased with that."
The last album you released on Tapemodern, your own label – how different was that experience compared with releasing it on Warners this time?
"I think we enjoyed that experience of doing it ourselves, but this was just an opportunity that presented itself. Someone from Warners had heard an early demo and the offer came along. I think part us is still striving for acceptance, driving to get to as many people as we can, so it seemed like the right thing, we never like to do the same thing twice or repeat experiences, we like to try and do each record differently."
What touring plans do you have for the new record?
"We're just kind of starting to get going again, so we're going to America for a month in September, we're playing the Hollywood Bowl, which is going to be incredible I think. We've got a UK tour at the end of the year, then we'll branch out after that. We're waiting for the record to grow a bit before we hit the road properly."
Will any of the guests be joining you on tour?
"There's nothing concrete yet, but it's definitely something we'd like to do though, for sure."
Any talk of album no. 15 yet? Or is it way too soon?!
"Er, yeah it's way too soon! We've just spent two and a half years living with each other in a 12x12 room, so we're not even talking about it yet, but once the touring is done with I'm sure we'll get back to doing something together."
Paper Gods is available in stores, online and to download now, you can buy online & preview track on the right-hand side of this page...